My Kinda Crazy

Volume 17 Letter 10

Mention the mobile phone industry in North America and prepare to watch the ire of many people surge. In 2012, in what seemed to many customers like a never-ending game of double billing, double dealing and eye-popping overage charges, T-Mobile found themselves in a market which tended to leave exasperated customers too exhausted even to complain. In this sad state of affairs T-Mobile was number four of four carriers and added to their market misery was the fact that they had the dubious distinction of being fastest shrinking mobile carrier in North America. Deutsche Telekom, the owners of T-Mobile, were watching their investment circle the drain and they were desperate to turn things around. In a bold move they tapped John Legere and the turnaround story is a tale of brilliant segmentation and spot on positioning highlighted by a customer minded CEO who has achieved nothing short of rock star status.

In an CNBC documentary Mr. Legere talked about how he needed to shake up the industry to get people to sign up with the number four carrier in America. Every hero story, he stated “has a villain and ATT and Verizon took the bait” brilliantly. Dubbing T-Mobile the ‘Un-Carrier’ because they don’t rip you off, Mr. Legere pitched his company as the hero while painting his two main competitors as the bad guys often calling them “dumb and dumber” (purposely unclear which carrier is which). In one commercial, Mr. Legere dons a batman mask claiming he’s ‘pissed off’ and here to save helpless ripped off mobile customers from the big cell phone providers.

The bright pink logo of T-Mobile, the aggressive on-line advertisement campaigns and an empowered front-line sales team has put a swagger in the step of the company. In a truly customer first strategy Mr. Legere often visits T-Mobile call centers taking time to personally intervene to “make things right” routinely turning dis-satisfied customers into T-Mobile advocates. Mr. Legere is famous for marching on the stage at telecom conferences in sweats and a pink T-Mobile sweatshirt. His use of the ‘F’ bomb in his talks is just another clue that T-Mobile’s strategy isn’t aimed at conservative corporate America but targeted at millennials and the “out there” mobile users who are sick of the status quo.

Once a buttoned-down businessperson, John Legere has transformed himself into the front man for a very dramatic turnaround using social media as the main targeting tool with his long hair, pink T-Mobile gear and T-Mobile props all part of a show that is more rock star than corporate CEO. Thinking any of this is an accident would be a mistake – it’s a brilliant turnaround strategy that has rescued T-Mobile from cell phone purgatory and placed them as a solid third competitor in a crowded market. What can we learn from T-Mobile:

  1. Shake things up: When you’re the fastest shrinking participant in the market aggressive action is needed! Maintaining the status quo is a fool’s game.
  2. Choose your customers and give up the rest: T-Mobile had long lost the battle for corporate America. Instead they found a segment that was different enough and big enough where they could establish their dominance going after the millennials and rebels. Never underestimate the power of good segmentation.
  3. Stand out: Mr. Legere’s long hair, his bright track suits, pink T-Mobile’s logo and his use of the F bomb are all loud and proud messages giving his target segment someone to fight for.
  4. Create a Villain: Every hero story needs a villain and Mr. Legere created two – Dumb and Dumber. He attacks ATT and Verizon relentlessly exposing their weaknesses while inviting anyone still using those “bad” carriers to join his revolution.

Being a rebel isn’t a strategy for everyone. It’s out there! It’s bold and aggressive with a big dose of crazy but John Legere is making it work. T-Mobile has doubled in size since he took over as CEO and as wild as Mr. Legere’s strategy is – what’s even crazier is companies that have no strategy at all!

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